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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Today's Birthdays

Not much real news happening, and a surprisingly busy day (personally) despite it.

Mike Fyhrie ANA b. 1969, played 1999-2000

Joe Kelley BRO b. 1871, played 1899-1901, Hall of Fame: 1971 (Veterans), d. 1943-08-14. Principally played in his youth with the National League Baltimore Orioles franchise that went sneakers up in 1899, Kelley was an outstanding centerfielder who also played left, helping lead that team to three straight pennants from 1894 through 1896 in the pre-World Series era. How he became a Dodger is the story of the birth of modern baseball's league structure.

In 1899, Frederick Abell, owner of the stumbling Brooklyn Superbas, and Harry Von der Horst, owner of the Orioles, came together to make a deal. The Orioles had lost their crown to the Boston Braves, and despite a strong second-place finish in 1898, attendance had dropped by half. The Spanish-American war was in full swing, and the public's mind was on other matters; Baltimore wasn't interested in a second-place team. So, Von der Horst and Abell hatched the idea of trading ownership shares, each man owning 40% of the other's club, with the idea of moving the best Baltimore players to Brooklyn, a larger and richer market. Charles Ebbets also bought into the deal, as did Baltimore manager Ned Hanlon.

The deal cleared the way for Kelley, along with Bill Dahlen, Harry Howell, and Dan McFarlan to man the Superbas. Brooklyn immediately became the class of the league, winning a pennant their very first year after a 54-91 finish the year before. Other owners cried foul at the new syndicate; The Sporting News called Von Der Horst, Abell, and company a "malodorous gang", but other clubs quickly aped the new structure, with St. Louis and Cleveland joining up, and Cincinnati and New York, too. Meanwhile, Baltimore collapsed. Ultimately, that team, Washington, Louisville, and Cleveland all vanished, paid by the league to disappear; thanks to the construction of the Brooklyn syndicate, the Superbas picked off their best players one at a time as their old clubs winked out of existence.

Aside from contraction, syndication had one other noteworthy effect: it laid bare the dullness of a game without a championship series. The old Temple Cup, a title series played by the top two teams in the NL, had been abandoned in 1897 after fans and players alike treated it as an exhibition series. Attendance in non-contending clubs waned after they fell out of the league race. The void opened by contraction sucked in a challenger, Ban Johnson, a sportswriter-turned-promoter whose Western League eventually grew into the American League. In time, that led to the war between the leagues, and ultimately, to the World Series.

Enos Kirkpatrick BRO b. 1884, played 1912-1913, d. 1964-04-14

Chuck Kress BRO b. 1921, played 1954

Juan Samuel LAN b. 1960, played 1990-1992, All-Star: 1984, 1987, 1991. A speedy player who lacked baseball acumen, he nonetheless owns the National League mark for single-season at-bats, with 701 in 1984. He had speed, but was prone to strike out and didn't draw many walks. He could hit for power, but not enough to justify putting him in the cleanup spot. He became a utility player for much of his later career as a result, but was the starting second baseman for the Dodgers at a particularly low point in their history.


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